November is a great month to look for lichens at Paxton Pits, as the deciduous trees lose their leaves and the ground flora dies back for the winter. Look on the bark of willows next to the paths bordering the lakes and on the bare, gravel soil for cup lichen and dog lichen.
Fruits and berries are still in abundance on the shrubs. Not only rose hips and hawthorn berries, but also the large black bryony berries, which hang from their withered vines on trees and shrubs. The seeds of ash and maple are falling from the trees along the Heron Trail and look for the acorns of the Turkey oak (in a prickly cup) and English oak, though finding the latter is difficult as many are parasitised by a gall wasp, producing the Knopper Gall. The affected acorn soon falls.
A favourite food source of siskins is the alder seeds. The male catkins are visible, along with the new and older, open fruit (they resemble small, dark fir cones). Most of the alders can be seen from the permissive footpath by the Sailing Lake, and look out, too, for the dogwood’s bright red stems along this path.
Seed heads of teasel, evening primrose, yarrow and mullien blow in the wind. The gravel area to the right of the Heron Trail just beyond the Hayden Hide usually boasts a good number of evening primroses. Look for the huge number of emerging basal leaves – if they survive the frosts, next summer will see a fine display of these large, yellow flowers.
Meanwhile, November is the month when the birds at Paxton indicate that winter is upon us. There are a few records of late house martins and swallows in most years and sometimes sightings of chiffchaffs near the Hayden Hide feeding station, where marsh tits and long-tailed tits are often a regular feature. But the focus turns to our winter visitors.
Siskins and goldfinches feed on the alders, while increasing numbers of redwings and fieldfares scavenge the hedgerows for berries, as flocks move westwards across the UK. Grey wagtail, jack snipe, snipe and green sandpipers may be present around the margins of the shallow pits, while the exciting winter roost builds towards dusk each day.
Raptors feature strongly in November, with sparrowhawks regular and now more common than kestrels, and occasional records of common buzzard and red kites. Rarer grebes, especially Slavonian grebe, may occur in November, while the first wintering smews and goosanders should appear towards the end of the month.
Wildfowl take centre stage now, with more than 30 goldeneyes, up to 500 pochards and similar numbers of tufted ducks. Occasional wild geese may pass overhead, while there are occasional reports of ruddy ducks and red crested pochards.